Title: Real Steel
Directed by: Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, The Hardy Men)
Starring: Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine, Butter), Kevin Durand (I Am Number Four, Robin Hood), Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hurt Locker) and Hope Davis (The Weather Man, About Schmidt)
First off no, this is not Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie. Granted that was the first thought that crept into my head after “Real Steel” was announced but it’s more than that. Honestly this movie fell into the small portion of upcoming films that I wasn’t looking forward to. Sure it had Hugh Jackman, who will forever be known as the Wolverine in my head, but what else will there be in the film? Surprisingly enough DreamWorks delivered something entertaining and a bit more heart felt than most audience members, including myself, thought it would be.
The story centers on down-on-his-luck former boxer Charlie Kenton (played by Hugh Jackman) who struggles to make a decent living, making his run-down robot fight in order to make a few extra bucks in underground robot boxing. Making matters worse, Charlie ends up taking care of his estranged eleven year old son Max (played by Dakota Goyo) after the death of the boy’s mother.
To say that this story is a bit formulaic is an understatement, but that shouldn’t be looked at as a negative either. Sometimes the better stories out there are the more familiar ones as we see this seemingly unlucky main character try to return to the fame and glory he once basked in. The one story comparison you’ll constantly hear “Real Steel” being matched to is “Rocky,” and it’s true to a certain degree. Sure, the story does involve robots fighting but thankfully that doesn’t become the main focus of the movie, despite what the advertising banners tell you. What does is Charlie’s struggle to rise back on top and the father-son relationship that unfolds onscreen.
Everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow with the possibility of a future sequel, naturally, but it doesn’t do so in an obvious fashion. Along with that, every character within the film serves his or her purpose and doesn’t appear just for the sake of appearance. Once again, everything wrapped in a neat little bow.
Whenever there’s a child that has a main role in most genres of film that aren’t kid flicks, there’s always this slight edge of worry that begins to bubble up in me. Half of the child actors that we have to watch on the big screen come off particularly annoying to the point where you want goblins to take him/her away right now. Thankfully that’s not the case with Dakota Goyo who is a cute delight to see on-screen bouncing off the scruffy-looking Hugh Jackman. It’s always great watching Jackman act, despite my soft spot for him thanks to his career so far, but it’s still great to watch him interact with the cast.
One of the many things that this production got right was getting the right cast together. Even the supporting cast was fun to watch, the most notable and obviously entertaining actors being Kevin Durand and Anthony Mackie. Usually at this point there’s at least one actor that I’m able to pick out from the crowd and rip apart but I’m happy to say this time that’s not the case.
Sometimes people cringe at the word “commercial,” depending on which context you’re using it in, but this time the term shouldn’t be frowned upon. Being commercial means you appeal to a wide audience who’ll be more than happy to give up some money to go out and see your film, so hopefully director Shawn Levy won’t hiss when I label his style as commercial. Then again, when you direct other movies like “Night at the Museum” and “The Pink Panther” that style is more or less a part of him, and that’s not bad.
I’ve always held onto the belief that half of an actor’s performance is determined by the command and guidance of the director. Although the main cast is talented in their own right, another reason they work well on screen also has to do with Levy’s direction. I also tip my hat to Levy’s decision to not bog “Real Steel” down with heavy stereotypical futuristic production design. Normally when we’re watching a science fiction film we tend to automatically associate hovercrafts and other out-there futuristic backdrops in the design, but not this time. It feels more grounded than most of those sci-fi genre films out there which is a breath of fresh air for all.
We as an audience are so used to seeing just pure CG devoid of practical effects so much that it surprises us when we find out that a studio picture decided to mix it up a bit. Legacy Effects was able to pull off that combination without a hitch for “Real Steel.” There’s always a certain percentage of films that rely so much on the CG, and don’t give themselves enough time to fix the possible kinks, that it comes off looking even more unrealistic than ever. There was never a point where one of the robots looked off-color in comparison to the lighting in the rest of the scene or anything of that nature. By the end of the film you start thinking to yourself how far off are we from seeing bigger robots fighting each other in the ring which I feel is a testament to what a great job Legacy did on this production. And yes, you’ll want an Atom for your own by the end of the film. You’ll see why once you watch it.
Overall (Final Words)
Remember how almost nobody was looking forward to “Fast Five” and then suddenly it became one of the most loved summer films of this year? “Real Steel” is definitely following in those footsteps, easily the most entertaining film of the fall season. The story may not have too many layers, but the predictable and fun movie is definitely worth your money. Be sure to watch this one with a crowd, it’s more entertaining that way.
Final Grade: A-